Yamina defector Chikli to resign from Knesset, opening the door for joining Likud

Resignation set to remove sanctions imposed by Yamina’s declaration of him as defector, meaning he can now join an existing party; however, panel could rule move illegal

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

MK Amichai Chikli arrives at the Jerusalem District Court, for his appeal against his designation as a defector, July 10, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)
MK Amichai Chikli arrives at the Jerusalem District Court, for his appeal against his designation as a defector, July 10, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

Rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli is expected to resign from the Knesset in a deal that would remove sanctions and allow him to run with an existing party in the upcoming election, amid rumors that the right-wing lawmaker is set to receive a reserved spot on the Likud party slate.

However, the Central Elections Committee still has to confirm that the agreement is legal.

The deal was reached during a hearing at the Jerusalem District Court on an appeal filed by Chikli against his designation as a defector by his Yamina party. That status would have prevented him from running as part of an existing party in the upcoming November 1 national vote.

Chikli and lawyers from former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina agreed that the renegade MK could resign from the current Knesset, despite resisting such a proposition when proceedings began a month ago. This would free Chikli from his restrictions and possibly allow him to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud party in the upcoming vote.

Chikli last year opposed his party’s forming of a government with an ideologically diverse group of factions, blasting the inclusion of the Islamist Ra’am party, consistently voting alongside the opposition. He was ejected from Yamina in April and declared a defector.

Chikli’s removal was widely seen at the time as a sign to other Yamina lawmakers to stay in line after former coalition whip MK Idit Silman jumped ship. Yamina filed its request to eject Chikli from the party a day after Silman’s departure and he was booted shortly thereafter.

MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on the Yamina party’s request to declare him a ‘defector,’ on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Chikli submitted his appeal in June, claiming his designation as a defector was unfair and undemocratic, and raised the question of whether a Knesset member is required to show allegiance to the head of the party, or to the voters who elected him MK.

Chikli asked the court to consider “the essential constitutional questions” posed by his removal from the party, such as whether under Israel’s democratic system “the legislature consists of 120 MKs who express the will of the electorate, or a limited number of faction leaders who can decide anything according to their personal wishes and decisions?”

That is a reference to Bennett, who has been widely accused by right-wingers of betraying his electorate by joining the ideologically diverse government.

However, according to the law, lawmakers can only evade punitive measures attached to such a move by resigning “immediately.” It remains to be seen whether Chikli’s resignation two months after he was declared a defector counts as “immediate.”

Chikli had long been rumored to be in talks to join Likud. Several Likud MKs tweeted messages congratulating him and calling on him to join their party immediately following the announcement of the deal on Sunday.

Likud lawmaker Yoav Kisch simply wrote: “Welcome Chikli!”

According to sources inside the Likud speaking to Hebrew media outlets, Chikli is set to receive a spot in the top 20 slots on Likud’s electoral slate, practically assuring him a place in the next Knesset, the Maariv daily reported.

Before the lifting of the sanctions, Chikli could have only run in the elections if he formed his own party, a move that would have risked siphoning votes from the Netanyahu-led block in the event his faction did not receive enough votes to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold required to enter the Knesset.

Yamina MKs Nir Orbach and Idit Silman talk in the Knesset on June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman, whose resignation from the coalition in April deprived it of a majority, will receive a spot in the top 30, according to the Maariv report.

MK Nir Orbach, whose resignation from the coalition in June brought it into a minority in the Knesset, will not be given a safe spot on the list but has been promised a ministerial position if the Likud forms government after the elections, according to several reports.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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